Volume 84 Issue 11 | p. 56 | Newscripts
Issue Date: March 13, 2006

Beetle juice? Ew!, Secrets of earwax, Clinic, aisle four, Organic dry cleaning

Department: Newscripts
News Channels: Environmental SCENE

Beetle juice? Ew!

Credit: Photo By Linda Wang
Credit: Photo By Linda Wang

For some people, knowing that their food or drink contains an extract from crushed female cochineal beetles would give them pause, if not make them gag.

Pressed by consumer advocates, the Food & Drug Administration has now drafted a proposal that would require companies to disclose such information on food labels.

Products like Good & Plenty candy and Dannon Fruit on the Bottom boysenberry yogurt all get their distinctive red, pink, or purple color from bug-derived dyes known as carmine or cochineal.

Currently, this ingredient can get by on labels as a "color added" or "artificial color." FDA requires only that man-made colorings, such as FD&C Red No. 40, be listed by name, according to a Jan. 27 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The upcoming decision matters greatly to vegetarians, people who observe kosher guidelines, and people with a rare but dangerous allergic reaction to such dyes. Some companies have already begun listing carmine by name. Others have taken steps to replace these extracts with synthetic dyes.

The cochineal is a parasitic beetle that feeds on prickly pear cacti and that is native to Central and South America. It takes 70,000 beetles to make one pound of marketable carmine.

Secrets of earwax

Ever wonder why some people have wet, sticky earwax while others have the dry, flaky kind? Some Japanese researchers decided to find out, and last month they reported in the journal Nature Genetics (2006, 38, 324) that a single gene may be involved.

The gene, known as ATP-binding cassette C11, or ABCC11, plays a role in exporting substances out of the cells that secrete earwax. A single DNA change deactivates the gene and, without its contribution, a person has dry earwax, according to a summary of the study in the Jan. 30 edition of the New York Times.

The wet form of earwax predominates in Africa and Europe, while the dry form is most common among East Asians. People in South and Central Asia are distributed roughly half-and-half. The researchers say that presumably dry earwax arose from a mutation long ago in Northeast Asia and spread throughout the world.

Clinic, aisle four

"You're sick. we're quick," advertises a new medical service called MinuteClinic, which recently debuted at a CVS store near Washington, D.C. In fact, such in-store clinics are popping up all over the retail world, from small-scale chains like Hy-Vee to megastores like Wal-Mart.

Operated by an outside company and generally staffed by nurses and physician assistants, these clinics offer treatments on the go for common ailments like strep throat and bronchitis as well as health screenings and vaccinations.

The lure is cost and convenience. In Davenport, Iowa, a medical clinic in a Hy-Vee charges $45 per visit and $15 per lab test, and accepts insurance.

According to an article in the Feb. 15 issue of Express, Washington, D.C.'s commuter newspaper, MinuteClinic has opened 70 clinics in CVS pharmacies, Target, and Cub Foods. Quick Care has opened a number of clinics in Hy-Vee stores, and Rediclinic is one of four providers for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart will open more than 50 in-store clinics this year.

Organic dry cleaning

Doing what Whole Foods did for groceries and what Aveda did for hair products, New York City start-up company Slate NYC is bringing the "environmentally friendly" label to laundry service.

The company claims that most dry cleaners use a toxic solvent called perchlorethylene, or perc, to clean clothes. "We use a combination of biodegradable and organic agents to clean them. This is not only beneficial to the environment (a cool benefit in and of itself), but clothes cleaned with this technology don't experience as much color loss, don't smell bad, and don't expose your skin to any toxic chemicals," the company says.

Customers sign up for a monthly flat fee, receive a Slate hamper, then choose a pickup time. "Cleaned clothes come back wrapped, tagged, and good as new," writes Slate NYC on its website, www.slatenyc.com.

Chemical & Engineering News
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